You may have noticed upon casual observation that people’s heads seem to be attached to their bodies. It might surprise you, however, that your dentist and physician may tend to forget that basic anatomic concept when diagnosing and treating our various ailments. The ramifications could be life threatening.
Medical research in recent years demonstrates a significant and consistent correlation between chronic gum infections in the mouth with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, osteoarthritis, and even pre-term low birth weight delivery and more. If you think I am talking about somebody else and not about you, consider the following statistics. The gum infection at the center of the melee is called periodontal disease which affects at least 70% of the adult population in the US; our most common infectious disease. 35-40% of you have a moderate to severe form of it and the only symptom you may be aware of is occasional bleeding the gums. Bleeding gums are very common, but are NOT NORMAL!
This bleeding is a low grade infection which causes inflammation promoting destruction of the bone around your teeth. Dentists have know this for decades and labor daily to slow it down enough that you don’t lose teeth before you die. What they didn’t know until recently is that even if you don’t lose teeth, the inflammatory reaction of your body to the infection in your mouth may be sensitizing other organ systems and increasing your chance of having other serious inflammatory type diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and more. Conversely, a person suffering with blood sugar control issues, arterial blockages, etc. may have a more difficult time with treatment and control if they also have and untreated oral infection. It is beginning to become more evident that your head is actually attached to your body.
The treatment for gum disease has proven to be a challenging and elusive problem for dentists and hygienists and often involves more than routine ‘cleanings’. The good news is that there are now some very easy and relatively inexpensive screening and diagnostic tests available to help your dentist and hygienist make better diagnoses, treatment decisions and monitor improvement or resolution of your condition. A visit to the dentist now may not only improve the health of your teeth but may even save your life.
Mr. Bob Schulhof, a statistician by profession and president of the Centers for Dental Medicine has published the following statistical summary. An average dental practice with 2000 active patients, which is properly diagnosing and treating gum disease, has the potential to prevent sixteen heart attacks per year, save forty people from becoming diabetic adding 8.2 years to their life expectancy, and identify sixty people who have diabetes and didn’t know it.
Ask your dentist about DNA analysis and other bacterial testing techniques to help diagnose periodontal disease, even about systemic testing, and don’t ignore bleeding gums. Ask your physician and your dentist to communicate about possible oral/systemic disease connections. It is okay to remind them that your head and your body are attached. Your life is at stake.